Program improves performance at Hillsdale

May 29, 2008 8:31:13 AM PDT
A local high school is in the national spotlight for a unique program that is dramatically improving student performance. Hillsdale High School in San Mateo started the plan five years ago, and now students and teachers are reaping the benefits.

It probably looked about the same at Hillsdale High School before 2003, but things were very different.

"I'd say at least one third of the students were not performing as we'd like," said Jeff Gilbert, principal Marrakech House.

That's when teachers and administrators decided something had to change. With the help of Stanford University's School Redesign Network - there came a vision. The 1,200 students were equally divided into three houses, as they're called; Kyoto, Florence and Marrakech, ancient cities renowned for knowledge and art.

"Ultimately we decided the problem with high schools in general is that teachers don't know students well enough and students don't know teachers well enough," said Gilbert.

Each house would have 400 students. The average class size would be reduced from 35 to 25. Four core teachers would be assigned to every 100 students and stay with them for a two year period. They'd also act as advisors, and interface with the students' families.

It was a great plan, but with one problem - how to pay for it. For that, you might have to search through an economics book and look under the chapter of tough choices.

"We have reduced probably two teachers' worth of electives, eliminated classified staff positions. All administrators either teach or help in the classroom at some point, and that saves us the value of a teacher," said Gilbert.

Add federal grant money and local community college students teaching a dozen classes and you see stories on the Newsweek website, and start hearing stories of student teacher relationships.

"Mr. O is my history teacher and whether we're at lunch or whatever he always had time to help me with what I needed help with," said R.J. Pagano, Hillsdale High senior.

Tanya Singh saw her grades slipping - her advisor noticed.

"You need to manage your time better, so they know a lot about each student," said Tanya Singh, Hillsdale high junior.

"Did your grades go back up?" asked ABC7's Terry McSweeney.

"Yeah they did," said Singh.

Since the program started, the number of UC or CSU eligible students has jumped from 16 percent to 50 percent. College test scores have jumped 125 points, 130 points for Latinos and 200 points for disadvantaged students.

English teacher Greg Lance, who helped bring the changes about, sums up it up this way.

"You're able to deal with them as individuals to help them with learning needs it allows us to personalize the process of education, which I think is what every parent would want for their child," said Lance.

It is a program that is working at Hillsdale High School, but it hasn't produced the same results at other schools across the country. English teacher Greg Lance says that's because teachers drove the changes at Hillsdale High, and believed in it, and that has made all the difference.


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